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Thread: 1951 Special with Engine Issues

  1. #1
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    1951 Special with Engine Issues

    Hi,

    About 5 years ago I bought my 1951 Special with its original 263 Straight 8, but a replacement air filter. When I first got the car, it ran though at times had trouble starting. I had it towed to my mechanic who checked everything out and got it running consistently for a while. Overall I have enjoyed it very much, though later I made the mistake of driving it in heavy traffic once, which caused me some engine issues. It stalled out on me and wouldn't restart. I had it towed to my mechanic who got it running again, but it eventually after a couple more months it stopped turning over again.
    Due to lack of money at the time (I got engaged and suddenly couldn't afford both my car and other new expenses ) so sadly my car has sat for over a year in a non running condition. Now that my finances are a little better off, I really want to get the car running again, but am not sure how best to proceed.

    On the one hand I do like the old Straight 8 engine, especially since its something that you don't see all that often, but am concerned that there may be hidden issues lurking with it since I have had it into the mechanic at least three (possibly four) times since buying the car, and have never gotten the car to start and run as reliably as I would hope.

    In general, my real hope for the car is just to have something to ride around town on the weekends and something to play around with, hopefully once I retire in 10+yrs or so (if I can keep it running that long).

    As such I have looked both into having a complete engine rebuild or having the engine swapped out with something else. My biggest fear on a rebuild is that a) a rebuild may or may not help make the car more "reliable" since you really won't know what problems may be present or if any new problems may arise until the engine is opened and b) I'm not sure if that would be something my current mechanic would be interested in trying to tackle.

    However, I'm also not yet fully certain that trying to replace the engine would be a good option either. Specifically, if I tried to buy an older engine, such as another Straight 8 or perhaps a Nailhead V-8 there would still be the concern that it being an older engine there might be hidden issues with them and I'm not fully sure that this alone would help make the car a "reliable weekend driver", while if I were to try and add something newer, like a small block Chevy, that would also require a change to the transmission, drive train, rear axle and rear suspension.

    As such, I'm kind of in a holding pattern on how to proceed. I've done some preliminary costing for the different options where the new small block engine option might run $6-7K in parts alone, while a rebuild kit for the Straight 8 may be on the order of $1.5-2K, plus of course labor for any of the options.

    As such, I guess I'm just looking for feedback and suggestion or recommendations from anyone who may have been in a similar situation before to see if there are any lessons learned, or other thoughts that might help me decide on a path forward.

    Thanks

    Pat
    - 1951 Buick Special Deluxe 4Dr Tourback Sedan

  2. #2
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    1951 Special

    Pat, sorry you are having trouble with the engine. You say not turning over. Not at all? Slow? If it is still 6V, the problem MAY be inadequate battery cables. No, probably. Please raise the hood on the passenger side and tell us, better yet, show us, the size of the cables. Both.

    What is the oil pressure? After engine is at operating temp, is it about half way on the gauge at 35-40 mph? I would like to know what the compression is as well. If these checks are out of your comfort range, make friends with some local hot rodders.

    I am betting the least expensive way to go is fix whatever is wrong. I will talk you through some of it if you want.

    Ben

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    Hi,

    Thanks for the feedback and suggestions. Yes it is still 6V. Right now it is not cranking at all, but I suspect that the battery is probably dead since the car hasn't been running for a bit. Previously though it would crank but not turn over. I am planning on working on it tomorrow, if it doesn't get too hot out, so I will try and take some pictures to post and maybe recharge the battery. Fortunately here in Northern VA there are a fair number of shows and meets going on during the summer, so maybe I'll try and make it to some of them and talk to some of the people there as well.

    Pat
    - 1951 Buick Special Deluxe 4Dr Tourback Sedan

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    Do not even consider installing a more modern engine. That will entail a new transmission and new rear end. If you have to hire that work done you will be way upside down in that car. Just get running what you have. I think your main problem right now is finding some one who has some knowledge about older cars, they are simple if you understand them. If you have moderate ability in mechanics try to repair it yourself. It is way cheaper and then at the car show you can brag that you repaired it and other people will ask you for advise. Parts are way cheaper than labor.

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    Hi,

    Thanks for your input. I understand your point of view, and I have looked into to costs of a new drive shaft, differential, rear axle and rear suspension, if I were to go the route of a newer engine, eventhough it is not my preferred option.

    However, as I noted in my original post I have taken my car in to the shop a few times already trying to get the existing engine to run reliably. And for the most part after each trip it has run reasonably well for awhile, but eventually additional problems have arisen, leading to further work required. As such, currently I am already "in the hole" by $3-5K on the current engine, and have concerns that spending more money on the existing engine may not resolve my issues.

    So, I guess I'm kind of trying to figure out if;

    1. Would having the existing engine rebuilt be a good idea
    2. Would rebuilding the engine result in a good chance of providing me with a reasonably reliable weekend driver
    3. What might be the risks of having the engine pulled and opened up only to find that there are more issues to address, or
    4. Is there a risk that once the engine is pulled and opened up that I may find that the engine is beyond rebuilding, etc


    Because I have already put a bit of money into the existing engine but have been still having issues, I have also been looking into what, if any, other options I may have other than having the existing engine rebuilt, including either looking for an already rebuilt Fireball 8 or early Nailhead and/or the option of doing a complete modern engine, transmission, and rear end swap out.

    I realize that what ever I do (short of cutting my losses and parting with the car before spending any more on it - which I really don't want to do) will entail some risk and varying amounts of money.

    I guess I'm just looking for any insight, guidance or lessons learned from others who may have either had their engines rebuilt and/or have gone the route of swapping in something else to help me decide what to do next.

    Thanks

    Pat
    Last edited by PFJN; 07-03-2018 at 10:43 PM. Reason: Clean up
    - 1951 Buick Special Deluxe 4Dr Tourback Sedan

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    From your description you said your mechanic got you going again, I would guess you have fuel problems, ignition problems and electrical problems. Rebuilding the engine may not be necessary. Does it smoke, make hammering or knocking noises. A Buick straight eight engine was built to last. If not smoking or making noise I would concentrate on the cheaper easier problems first. Get the electrical system, fuel system and ignition system fixed right. Check out Bob's Automobilia in California. He has the best selection of the parts you will need. NAPA also is a good source but some of the stores do not have the old books and their computers do not reach that far back.. These are just my thoughts.

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    The biggest problem is "my mechanic" and "the mechanic". Get a service manual. Read, study and understand. Then start a thread here on one system at a time like battery cables as mentioned. Then ignition; then fuel; then compression...Help is available here and other forums.
    Busy mechanics will not take the time to read, research and understand...they just jump in and do something even if it is wrong (and it usually is).

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    '51

    Quote Originally Posted by 322bnh View Post
    The biggest problem is "my mechanic" and "the mechanic". Get a service manual. Read, study and understand. Then start a thread here on one system at a time like battery cables as mentioned. Then ignition; then fuel; then compression...Help is available here and other forums.
    Busy mechanics will not take the time to read, research and understand...they just jump in and do something even if it is wrong (and it usually is).
    Tell em Tank.

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    Quote Originally Posted by suntreemcanic View Post
    From your description you said your mechanic got you going again, I would guess you have fuel problems, ignition problems and electrical problems. Rebuilding the engine may not be necessary. Does it smoke, make hammering or knocking noises. A Buick straight eight engine was built to last. If not smoking or making noise I would concentrate on the cheaper easier problems first. Get the electrical system, fuel system and ignition system fixed right. Check out Bob's Automobilia in California. He has the best selection of the parts you will need. NAPA also is a good source but some of the stores do not have the old books and their computers do not reach that far back.. These are just my thoughts.
    Hi,

    Thanks. That sounds like a good idea, will do.

    Up until the last time I ran into problems the engine ran fairly smoothly, but after I made the mistake of getting stuck in a traffic jam it never ran smoothly again. I tried replacing the spatk plugs and fuel filter (since I could see some grit in it) but it still had issues and evedntually stopped turning over. The battery had a charge previously, and would crank but wouldn't turn over, even if a shunted the starter with a screwdriver.

    I do think that the engine may have been running a bit rich since the exahasut was dark for a while, but I'm not sure that is/was the root of my problems.

    Thanks again

    Pat
    - 1951 Buick Special Deluxe 4Dr Tourback Sedan

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by 322bnh View Post
    The biggest problem is "my mechanic" and "the mechanic". Get a service manual. Read, study and understand. Then start a thread here on one system at a time like battery cables as mentioned. Then ignition; then fuel; then compression...Help is available here and other forums.
    Busy mechanics will not take the time to read, research and understand...they just jump in and do something even if it is wrong (and it usually is).
    Hi,

    I'm sorry but no that is not the problem. I have a degree and marine engineering and have worked on cars before and my brother taught me how to do my first tune up on my old 65 Plymouth Belvedere, back when I was in high school. I also bought a shop manual for my Buick before the car was even delivered.

    What is the problem is that a) I do not have the facilities to pull an 800-900lb engine myself or do a compression check on the cylinders, nor do a have a lift in my yard to get underneath the car and check out the frame, work on the suspension and brakes, etc nor b) do I always have the time do try and do the work that I would like to do since I work a 40+ hr work week and also spent a month and a half last year out of the country on work.

    So yes, I (and I suspect other like me) sometimes do rely on mechanics to help us out, and since this particular mechanic also has a side business specifically dealing with older cars I feel very comfortable talking with him, getting advice, and getting his expert opinion on things.

    I appreciate that there is a lot of benefit in trying to do things yourself but classic cars appeal to a lot of people and not all of them have a full service center in their garage and as such sometimes need outside help. Please don't be one of those posters that seemingly feel the need to make other feel inadequate if they can't do each and everything themselves.

    Pat
    - 1951 Buick Special Deluxe 4Dr Tourback Sedan

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